NEW YORK – With a 4-2 defeat of Virginia, the Columbia men’s tennis team is headed back to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons after one of the most wild and most unconventional days in program history.
The Lions prevailed, defeating both a rough weather situation and the winners of the past three NCAA Tournaments, who have not been beaten in this setting since 2014. After moving from the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, back to Columbia, then back to Queens, then experiencing a rain delay that sent the teams back to Columbia for good, the Lions were finally victorious just before 9 p.m.
"We have to be a little lucky," said the Columbia Tennis Alumni and Friends Head Coach Bid Goswami. "We had a really great year and I'm glad we stayed in the top-16 to host. I'm really in awe of our guys. They're doing well in school and playing a really high level. This will be gravy now. The guys have no more classes so I told them let's go out and have fun."
On Friday, the Lions advanced to the second round after they won a first round match over Monmouth, 4-0, while the Cavaliers were victorious over VCU the day before by the same score.
After a delayed start at 3:30 p.m. due to wet conditions, the teams were able to complete doubles play in Queens, before another weather delay forced the action back indoors to Manhattan.
In doubles play, the Lions came out on fire, taking the lead in all three matches. Jackie Tang and Victor Pham would take the top match over Carl Soderlund and Matthew Lord. That left Adam Ambrozy and Michal Rolski left up 5-2, while a powerful Rolski serve was weakly returned to Ambrozy, who put away the doubles-point winner.
With a 1-0 team edge, the Cavaliers kept the pressure on, taking an immediate lead in five of the six singles matches. Virginia went on to win sets in the top two matches, but Austen Huang and Timothy Wang evened it up with set wins of their own.
Shortly after the No. 5 and 6 matches went up a set for the Lions, Jack Lin held serve at No. 3 singles to take a lead over Gianni Ross, 6-4. Ambrozy went ahead 6-5 in the No. 4 match against Kyrylo Tsygura, only to have the match go to a tiebreaker at 6-6.
One the tiebreaker began, so did the rain. The teams were forced to head back to the Dick Savitt Tennis Center, where the match was supposed to be played earlier in the day due to the weather.
As the teams resumed the match that was originally scheduled to start at noon around 7:55 p.m., the energy that the home crowd brought seemed to lift the Lions.
Huang would not take long to finish his match against Matthew Lord at No. 5 singles, as the rookie held a substantial lead at the time of the delay. Huang won 6-4, 6-1, giving the Lions a 2-0 lead in the team scoring.
With five matches still in play, everything was still very much in the air, as Virginia took a one set lead in three of the remaining matches, although Columbia was holding a 2-0 lead of their own.
The No. 2 singles match would end next, with the No. 62 ranked Tang falling to No. 51 Aswin Lizen, 6-2, 6-3. The Cavaliers would then even the score at 2-2 when No. 24 Soderlund topped No. 27 Pham in the top match, 6-1, 7-6 (5). That tie would only last a matter of seconds, as Jack Lin was a straight-set winner over Gianni Ross in the No. 3 match, 6-4, 6-1.
With a 3-2 Columbia lead and play still remaining in the No. 4 and No. 6 matches, all eyes went to those two courts.
Ambrozy first set tiebreaker Kyrylo Tsygura ended up going to Virginia’s No. 4 player, 7-6. The Columbia sophomore would fight back, and take the lead in the second set, but would not have any need to finish the match.
Timothy Wang took the first set over Amar Alhaqbani, 6-3, before the No. 6 player for the Cavaliers won the second set, 6-4. Wang would prove to be too strong on the day, taking a 5-1 lead before blasting an ace past Alhaqbani to send the Lions to the Sweet 16.
The win for the Lions moves the Ivy League champions to 19-4 on the season. Columbia plays in the Sweet 16 against the winner of tomorrow’s Wake Forest/South Carolina on Friday, May 18 at 4:00 p.m. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.